Support staff at eight Twin Cities hospitals have authorized a strike.
Ninety-one percent of the 3,500 members of the Service Employees International Union voted in favor of a walkout. The workers include nurse's assistants, maintenance and cafeteria workers in the Children's, Health East, Park Nicollet, North Memorial and Fairview hospital systems.
The vote, taken Monday and Tuesday, does not mean a strike is imminent, but does allow union leaders to call for a walkout if they find it necessary. The vote authorizes a two- to five- day strike, should union leaders call one.
The workers' old contract expired February 28. The union says the hospitals' proposed changes would push the lowest-paid workers into poverty.
"This overwhelming result, 91 percent, really speaks for itself. And this is a really strong position to go into the talks," SEIU spokeswoman Karen Louise Boothe said.
Hospital managers say they're disappointed with the vote and are asking for reasonable changes in the union's contract to ensure flexibility in a changing health care industry.
Jeremiah Whitten of Park Nicollet Health Services says the vote is disappointing, but he remains hopeful an agreement is possible. Speaking for all the hospitals, Whitten says any strike would not affect a patient's ability to see their physicians.
"If there is a job action, it will not affect physicians and registered nurses," Whitten said. "In the unlikelihood that a strike were to occur, people could still see their regular doctors and nurses."
Further negotiations are scheduled for Wednesday.